If you were to tell people you know that you believe in them what might they assume? Chances are they would recognise that you were affirming them and indicating that you have confidence in them. You could be telling them you have faith that they will succeed in what they are trying to do. You could be saying that you place your trust in them, in your certainty that they won’t let you down.
One thing is probably sure: you wouldn’t be saying to the person you are talking to: ‘I agree that you exist.’ Yet, isn’t it interesting that when it comes to God, for many of us, the words ‘I believe in God’ indicate that we happen to believe God exists? What if that were to mean so much more?
Believing that God exists is, of course, a good place to start. Although, without wanting to complicate things unnecessarily, so is not believing that God exists. Why?
Let’s start with the affirmation, “God exists.” If this is your starting point, you have at least an openness to the reality of God. You may have little or no experience of interacting with God regularly, but the concept that is “God” is not foreign to you. However, you are in a precarious position. This is because, in order to grow spiritually, you may need to leave behind whatever concepts and images about God you have been taught or thought up for yourself. For there is one thing that is certain: while your concept of God may contain some elements of truth, it is without doubt inadequate.
This is true for all of us, not just for you. God defies human constructs and categories. Those who think they have God sorted out are dealing with an often well-meaning product of their intellect and imagination; cobbled together from some half thought out truths they have picked up along the way. The way we describe God almost always says more about us than it does about God.
For this reason, the person who does not believe that God exists is not at a disadvantage. While they too have their baggage about God to deal with, their preconceived ideas are often no more ridiculous than those carried by the believer. As an atheist said to me once: “I can’t believe in an old man in the sky and an afterlife populated with unicorns.” To which I could not help but agree: “The God you don’t believe in does not exist.” And yet I know many people of faith for whom their understanding of God is not far removed from the parody of God presented by the atheist. When Israel Folau posted on social media that various groups of people are going to hell, he revealed much more about himself and his hang-ups than he did about God and God’s concerns. In God’s eyes, we are all sinners whose only way into life and salvation is to receive his mercy: not just the people on the stereotypical hit list of sinners.
For this is what it means to believe in God: it is not a simple affirmation that God exists. Instead, it is an act of trust and confidence in God that we are all invited to make. Each of us requires God’s assistance to embrace the life that God wills for us. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, or where your life is headed. What matters is that you reach out to God and place your trust in him. Believe in God, and he will lead you into the life he has for you.
Who God is
Rather than speculate on whether or not “God” exists, Christians look at the person of Christ and say, “This God exists.”
Jesus came to show us what God is really like, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3).
So the Christian answer to the question, “Who is God?” is simply: Jesus Christ.
The gospel message consistently affirms the goodness of God in Christ, because it’s often only when bad things happen that people’s actual beliefs about God surface. They assume that if their suffering isn’t alleviated that God is punishing them, or that God doesn’t care about them, or God is capricious or vindictive.
In times of trouble it’s vital to keep affirming (quoting Brian Zahnd, The Crucified God):
God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We have not always known what God is like—
But now we do.
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.